Innovative Ceramics Program Gives Veterans a Free Outlet for Creativity

Jason Conway, USMC, Iraq War Veteran; Steve Dilley, instructor; Duane Matthews, USMC, Vietnam War Veteran; Ryan Anderson, USMC; Nick Koscielski, USN, Veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan; Brandon Houser, USMC, Iraq War Veteran

It started with a casual conversation between ceramics instructor Steve Dilley and his long-time friend.  Inspired by research into alternative treatments for veterans experiencing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Dilley wanted to start a ceramics program open to veterans as an escape from the emotional and physical trauma they may have suffered. That friend, who is a veteran, gave Dilley a check for $12,000 and, with help from Dean of Fine Arts & Media Technology Bart McHenry, Ceramics Instructor Richard White, and Community Education Director Estella Castillo-Garrison, the program started this semester at Saddleback.

The program, which is free to veterans and their spouses through Community Education, saw a doubling of students from its first week to the second and it looks to continue to grow as more student veterans discover it. Dilley is working closely with the college’s VETS Center, specifically with Kevin Williams’ Applied Psychology 140 class geared toward veterans, to tout the benefits of having a fun course like ceramics.

Dilley tells all students to come as they are, regardless of physical or mental limitations. “You can do ceramics with one hand. You can do it if you’ve had traumatic brain injury.  It really doesn’t matter. These veterans can do it.” Ceramics has the ability to help improve fine motor skills and concentration, even if veterans have severe injuries.

Dilley sees the program as a bridge to academics, especially for those who are not yet ready to take traditional classes. “When we’re talking about ceramics, we touch on chemistry, geology, anthropology, and a lot of other areas of study. This may be a way for these students to find their calling and career path.”

Although the current donation will only cover this semester’s course, Dilley is hoping to continue and expand it.  In addition to starting a similar program at another community college, Dilley is also hoping to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to bring the program to military bases and hospitals.  It appears that he may be close to his goal — the VA has shown an interest in having him speak to injured veterans about alternative PTSD treatments.

Even though the program is already bigger than he ever imagined, Dilley still believes, “If I help lessen the pain of just one veteran, this program will have been successful.”